A heroic police officer in Londonderry risked his life to evacuate people from city centre businesses before a bomb exploded outside the police station on Tuesday |morning.
District Commander Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin paid tribute to the policeman who walked past the device, placed in a taxi, twice in a bid to clear people working at a local cafe.
The top officer described the placing of the bomb outside Strand Road police station as “utter madness” and that those responsible were “anti-Derry”.
Cafe owner Lotfi Jalloul told yesterday how his life was saved as the officer rushed him out of the back of his shop just moments before the explosion. He was driving off down the street as the device detonated and said he was “lucky to be alive”.
Chief Superintendent Martin told a Press conference yesterday that shortly after 3am two armed and masked men forced a taxi driver answering a call to Cooke Street in Brandywell to drive to Glenfada Park in the Bogside where the bomb — which he said was made with around “200lbs of home-made explosives” — was placed in the boot.
He was then ordered at gunpoint to drive to Strand Road.
The driver ran into the station as police received a telephone warning containing a code word and claiming to be from Óglaigh na hÉireann, saying the bomb would explode in 45 minutes.
But Chief Superintendent Martin revealed that just 22 minutes later, as evacuations were still taking place, the bomb went off.
“Police acted quickly to evacuate local residents and one officer saved the lives of a number of people working in a cafe. He had to walk past the device twice, putting his life at risk,” the Chief Superintendent said.
He said that considerable damage had been caused to local businesses including the cafe and to the recently revamped North West Regional College close to the base.
“It is utter madness to place a bomb in an inner city street in the middle of the night and endanger the lives of not only the police but local residents.”
He said police did not have enough time to clear a nearby fold for the elderly, which has been caught up in a number of |
attempted bomb attacks on the station.
Remarking on the fact that Derry was recently named first ever UK City of Culture, he added: “These people are anti-Derry — there is no other explanation.
“What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of the nationalist and republican community don't support them and don't want them. This city is going forwards, not backwards.”
Answering questions on how the attack was allowed to happen just a day after two taxi drivers foiled another attempted hijacking, he said: “The PSNI charged more people in connection with terrorism in June this year than the whole of last year.”
Anyone with information on the attack or who noticed the movements of the taxi, a silver Mazda 262, registration IUI 7153, is asked to contact police.
Meanwhile, last night a PSNI spokeswoman said the scene around the explosion would be sealed off for two days to allow officers to examine the area.
Dissidents have stepped up their activities in Derry since the start of the year. In January Raymond Coyle (52) was shot three times in the legs by vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD).
The following month the Real IRA murdered Kieran Doherty (31).
In April five pipe-bomb attacks on houses in the Bogside area were claimed by RAAD, also thought to have been behind a shooting last month at Dunmore Gardens.